The Use of Shall and Will

"Shall" originally meant "owe" and, therefore, expressed obligation. But, as time passed, its significance was softened to express simple futurity with the first person; and a promise, a threat, a command or a resolve, with the second and the third person; as,

  1. I shall be glad to see you. (Simple Futurity).
  2. Thou shalt not steal. (Command).
  3. He shall be charged with this offence before he magistrate. (Third & Resolve).
  4. Kings shall fall down before him. (Promise).

"Will" originally expressed a wish or an intention or a resolution on the part of the speaker. But in current English, it expresses self-determination with the first person; and simple futurity, with the second and the third person; as,

  1. He will readily find the book. He will return before long. (Simple Futurity).
  2. If can do you any service, I will. Among traitors we will not dwell. (Self-determination).

The foregoing discussion clearly shows the two forms of the future tense:

But, in fact there are three kinds of Future actions:

  1. The Simple future;
  2. The future of volition or determination; and
  3. the future of obligation or necessity.

And there are but two Auxiliaries-- "shall" and "will" to express these three futures. It is this defect that gives rise to all difficulty and confusion in the use of "shall" and "will".

The following points may, perhaps, be helpful in using "shall" and "will" without any confusion;

The sum and substance of this discussion may, now, be given as follows;

  1. When a speaker wants to express simple futurity, he uses "shall" for himself; and "will" for others.
  2. When the agents will control the action, he uses "will" for himself; and "shall" for others.

But remember that "will" cannot be used in questions with the first person. Thus it is wrong to say; will we? It should be; shall we?

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